JANUARY 2023 | Volume 223
Charlie Gallant, Olivia Hutt. Photo credit Shimon Photo.
Mitch and Murray Productions describes Aaron Craven’s new play as “semi-autobiographical,” based on his and his wife’s struggles with the deterioration of his aging parents at the same time as the Cravens had their first child. Director David Mackay and an excellent cast deliver a powerful production of Craven’s intelligent, sensitive script, with a bravura performance from Patti Allan as the mother victimized by Alzheimer’s. But be warned: despite its grace notes, this is a harrowing, lacerating story often difficult to watch.
It begins humorously—but ominously—as Edward (Charlie Gallant) and pregnant Sara (Olivia Hutt) visit his parents, Bob (Tom McBeath) and Judith (Allan). Paranoid about an intruder breaking in to steal her jewelry, Judith has called the police, and she is all over the officer (Jesse Miller) in what seems like a cute, eccentric old-person way. But it soon becomes clear that she has dementia, and it’s getting worse. Gentle Bob has his own physical problems, and the kids start talking about putting them in a home. But Ed, resisting the idea, is somewhat in denial.
So he hires a caregiver, Grace (serene Leslie Dos Remedios), to help out mom and dad in their house. But Judith responds with increasing anger, irrationality and violence. (“What do you like to eat,” Grace asks with a smile. “I like to eat SHIT!” Judith answers.) Loving Bob is always able to calm her by asking her to dance—they obviously still adore each other. But he’s increasingly unable to stay on his feet.
The stakes are raised again when Ed and Sara’s baby is born. As Ed, an actor, tries to rehearse an audition while the baby cries, Judith’s paranoia increases and Bob phones on the verge of hysteria, he begins to turn on Sara, who has her own stresses and struggles. Both couples’ lives are becoming nightmarish, climaxing with an appalling, heartbreaking scene of Judith’s complete breakdown that ends the first act.
Things don’t get easier for any of the four until the end, when there are some resolutions. The big question will be whether Ed and Sara’s marriage will survive the pressure. Craven refuses to let himself off easily, writing Ed for a long stretch as an unsympathetic character who buckles under the pressure and turns extremely nasty towards his wife. In contrast Sara stays strong and relatively sane, calling him on his bullshit and (barely) keeping their marriage afloat. Gallant takes some real risks in making Ed so angry, and Hutt very nicely comes in underneath his rage.
The older couple, too, complement one another to great effect. Struggling with his physical enfeeblement, McBeath’s Bob absolutely radiates the tenderness and love he feels for Judith, who seems to become more physically powerful as her mind atrophies. Patti Allan bravely goes to some very dark places in her marvelous performance, using Judith’s undiluted physical and vocal strength to strike out against the tragic unfairness of her condition.In many ways this is a terrifying play, not just for those like Sara and Ed in the “sandwich” generation, having to deal with aging or aged parents while trying to make a living and raise their own children, but for the Judiths and Bobs, those of us in our seventies who look ahead to what may come if/when we can’t take care of ourselves anymore. Simply shuffling off that mortal coil looks increasingly like a blessing, for ourselves and our adult kids, compared to the alternatives.
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